A round-up of IATEFL 2017 Pre-conference interviews

IATEFL 2017

Here’s a round-up of some of the pre-conference interviews that were conducted on April 4, 2017

Jim Scrivener: Scrivener talked about a recent study he conducted in China where he observed over 50 teachers teaching English lessons and concluded that the lessons were largely teacher-led with passive students, taught in L1, and with a focus on learning definitions. This is of course nothing new. What’s interesting is that during the conference, Scrivener is going to be contrasting his ‘Western’ views about effective learning with a Chinese counterpart who will talk about the historical and cultural basis for the way teaching and learning takes place currently in China. There’s been lots of criticism of CLT particularly from Asia where I recall someone describing it as a Western ’boutique’ approach. I haven’t heard the Chinese take on this so this symposium if livecast will be worth watching. The question is whether he and the audience will truly be open to understanding an approach that contravenes the established norms of what we perceive as ‘effective learning’.

Jo Gakonga: Well-known for her CELTA videos, Gakonga is currently engaged in research into feedback and has been looking at it through the lens of Brown & Levinson politeness theories in how teachers provide feedback to other teachers particularly in mentoring relationships. Her rationale for using Brown & Levinson is that it’s a framework for thinking about how you give feedback so the recipient can take it on board.  Politeness theory has two aspects: positive and negative. Positive politeness is about making people feel wanted and a part of the group and negative politeness is about making people feel that you are not telling them what to do so you decrease the possibility of rejection. Gakonga suggested that teachers could audio-record their feedback, transcribe it, and do some discourse analysis on it in order to reflect.  This seems like a really simple technique but I have to confess I’ve never used it. She also mentioned that some people find it natural to reflect on their practice and others don’t – an observation I too made on my CELTA tutor-in-training program. My supervisor and I discussed whether this could by caused by cultural factors and differences in education systems but that’s a topic to explore in another post.

Carol Read: Read is going to be talking about values education with children during the conference. Understanding values education requires us to unpack what values are (cognitive, affective, behavioural dimensions), whose values they are, and whether we are imposing these values on children or using a model of influence where children make decisions. She spoke about a gap between a child getting an awareness of values and putting it into practice in their daily lives e.g. children may understand fairness and justice but do they apply these behaviours in the playground. Read pointed out that we are never just language teachers with children but more holistic educators. In her conference workshop, she is going to be covering life skills. She thinks the most important are the ones listed in the UN’s core skills framework: critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving & decision making, communication, empathy, relating to people and resolving conflict. She believes that using everyday classroom activities such as stories and topics could enable teachers to encompass life skills training as well as language, potentially enriching language curriculum.

Pete Sharma: Sharma is one of the big names in terms of tech in ELT and incidentally he was interviewed by Nik Peachey, another tech evangelist. They discussed the potential virtual reality has for things like role play but suggested that it would be presumptious to say that something is definitely going to be the next big thing. There was an interesting aside on how tech evolves from its original intended use: Youtube was intended for dating videos and Twitter was a way for children to let their parents know where they were. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI), there’s a risk of translation devices entirely disrupting our industry. Peter argued that AI may not do away with language teaching entirely because technology may not enable you to engage with culture or literature more deeply. Peachey, however, pressed on with the question that if technology translates for you, why would you want to learn a language to which Sharma reiterated his point about both (technology and teaching) co-existing but ended with an ominous “I hope”.

Marek Kiczkowiak: Kiczkowiak is the untiring voice behind TEFL Equity. He stated that 88% of job ads in the Middle East were discriminatory. In the EU, adds now deceptive words like native-like or native-level to mask their real intent. He suggested that there was an urgent need to address these issues on pre-service courses like the CELTA. Jason Alexander who did a study with native and non-native CELTA trainees found that their needs were different. Non-native trainees often came to the course with language and teaching qualifications. He also suggested that we need to talk about the international nature of English on pre-service courses and that by not doing it, we aren’t preparing teachers for it who in turn aren’t preparing students for it. This was something I was wondering about as well while I was getting trained up on the CELTA. Kiczkowiak also touched on the lack of diversity in marketing materials which sets the wrong expectations and that there’s a need to influence the agents who are responsible for recruiting teachers and pitching courses to students.

You can catch the livecast of the IATEFL 2017 plenaries here.

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